Nicola Monaghan's news, events and general thoughts about life and writing.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

On writing a novel... quickly...

I have finished my departure novel.

At the risk of inciting sickness, jealousy or furious ire, I'm going to admit here that the bulk of the novel was written in a week and half. I edited it over the course of two days and then I sent it to my agent. We've now spoken about a couple of minor revisions and he's sending it out next week to editors.

I posted word counts as I went on Facebook and was told off by a friend for making it all sound too easy. In fact, this friend and I, we used to joke all the time about the adverts you saw in magazines like Writers' News that began with the headline 'Why not be a writer?' as if it was as easy as having the idea. We used to talk about one particular aspiring friend who was bashing out the words like nonsense and we suspected was looking round the room shouting 'Look no hands!' as she did it. And that's probably the way I looked when I was writing this novel.

The thing was, thanks to new and consuming work commitments, I had a short time horizon to get a draft out. It was that week or probably not at all. So I set myself a daily word count target of six thousand words that even I found ridiculous. Then the first day, I wrote them. And the second day, I wrote them. Three days in and my draft had doubled in size. The next day, I was halfway there. There was something incredibly refreshing about getting through the project so quickly. There were other advantages too; It was easy to keep the story in my head, to remember where I was and what the characters had done.

Don't get me wrong, the actual writing I did in that week and half was really the conclusion of lots of work I'd done on the project. I'd planned the book meticulously, thought about it at length, talked it out to my most trusted writing allies. I had read around, finding every similar novel I could get my hands on and reading it, revisiting others that I'd read years before but wanted to have more fresh in my mind. In the background, I had done all my homework so that when it came to writing the book, it flowed, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

So, no, it isn't that easy to write a novel. That said, the process made me think a little. As a touring writer, I hear the same things again and again when I go to meet readers. These vary from generic questions (Where do you get your ideas from? What are your writing habits? Do you use a computer or write it longhand with a pen?) to specific ones about my books (What happened to Jon? What was it Kerrie found in the outhouse?) to wistful statements about the art of writing. (I'd love to write a book, What a marvellous thing to have done, I've always wanted to write a book.)

It's the last of these that came to mind after I'd finished my draft of this novel. I've always wanted to write a book. I remember once mentioning to an acquaintance I bumped into on the tube 'I want to write' and his counter 'Who doesn't?' and he was so very right, I've worked out now.

So who does write? What makes the difference? I can only say what I say to anyone who comes out with this statement and their wistful far away eyes. Do it. It possibly sounds trite and simplistic, but I really believe that's all you need to do. Put one word in front of another, hold your breath and write until you get to the end. (By trial and error I have found that for me it's better to have some idea where I'm going before I start out. Although, I've also found that the only way to learn how to write a novel is to try it and fail a few times...)

An English teacher I worked with years and years ago, one of the crowd who'd gone into teaching because of Dead Poet's Society and been sorely disappointed in leaky, crumbling comps, he once told me that he thought I lived by the film's motto and did seize the day. I wasn't sure at the time; mostly I thought I lived day to day and didn't think too carefully about anything but, in hindsight, he might have had a point. I surprised myself in the last few weeks. I decided I was writing the novel quickly, and I wrote it. Quickly. 

I hope that I don't come across as arrogant on this post or you think I'm showing off. That would mean I haven't got my point across very well at all. Really, I want to stress that, whilst it might not be easy, writing a novel is possible. It really does get done one word at a time.

Right. I want you all standing on your desks with a fist to your chest. Come on! Carpe Diem you lot!